story by Kevin Shaw | photo courtesy of Orpheum Memphis
Next year, The Phantom of the Opera will have been running on Broadway for 30 straight years! Such a lengthy run outpaces its closest competitor (the revival of Chicago) by a full eight years and is showing no signs of slowing down. Memphis audiences are lucky enough to host the national tour again for another two-week run during the holiday season at the Orpheum Theatre. Focus Magazine spoke by phone with one of the stars of the show, David Benoit (Monsieur Firmin) who’s been with the national tour for four years and is currently with the show in Montreal.
Focus: It’s hard to believe it’s been over 30 years since Phantom premiered on Broadway! How is it possible that this show has lasted so long with no signs of slowing down?
Benoit: I think it’s because of Andrew Lloyd Webber–there’s something in the way he writes that “catches” people which creates an enormous commercial appeal (Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, School of Rock, etc.). He’s obviously the most prolific writer who is still among us. He really knows how to write a song and a book. This story is the standard “Beauty and the Beast” story, but with the lushness and romance of a Paris Opera House. (Plus, he never is scant on the scale of his productions—they’re all spectacles).
Focus: But, after 31 years of Broadway and touring, how can there be anybody left on the planet who hasn’t already seen this show? How does it still sell out to packed houses?
Benoit: Obviously, there are a lot of repeat attenders, but actually this tour IS different from the original Broadway version. This production is so vastly different (everything except the costume design) that for many people it’s like seeing Phantom of the Opera for the first time again.
Focus: Is this national tour a scaled down version of Broadway?
Benoit: Absolutely not. This production is just as big, if not bigger than Broadway! It’s an enormous show. We travel with 18 trucks and two additional trucks go ahead of time to different cities with a whole separate stage to load everything into the next city. To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the opening on Broadway, producer Cameron Mackintosh wanted to send out a “reboot” of the show utilizing the advancements in technology in order to embrace everything that was new and exciting to entice a newer, younger audience. Ironically, the advancements in technology have helped this version focus more on the story (without losing the opulence). It’s a darker, more realistic version. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than the original, just a different take. Audiences are definitely “wowed” by it—the responses at curtain call are pretty overwhelming!
Focus: I saw Michael Crawford’s (the original) version of the Phantom in New York and I saw Robert Gulliaume’s Phantom in Los Angeles a couple of years later and I was blown away with how different their portrayals of the same character were (Crawford’s was pathetic and sad, while Guilliaume’s was angry and hurt) and yet, they still worked. How many Phantoms have you had on this tour since you joined it four years ago and have they been different in their interpretations?
Benoit: There have been three and they all have been vastly different! In this tour, this Phantom is not a magic man, he’s not a magician, and he’s not a Sad Sack figure. Instead, he’s just a flawed human being in love with a girl seeking happiness ultimately. This Phantom, like the show, is grittier, darker and scarier than any version you might have seen before—a different take, but a very satisfying take!
Focus: So, it sounds like it’s worth seeing this show again even if you’ve seen it before?
Benoit: Absolutely! This production is huge and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth!
The Phantom of the Opera runs November 29th-December 10th at the Orpheum Theatre
For Tickets: https://orpheum-memphis.com/